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Oxford University Press

American Historical Association

On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America

Author(s): Hilda Sabato
Source: The American Historical Review, Vol. 106, No. 4 (Oct., 2001), pp. 1290-1315
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical Association
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Review Essay
On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century
Latin America


IN THE LAST TEN TO FIFTEEN YEARS, citizenship has become a crucial term in political
and academic debates. Not least in Latin America. While in the turbulent decades
of the 1960s and 1970s, that term was absent from the mainstream political and
ideological discourses of most Latin American countries, in the 1980s it became a
key word in the language of the transition to democracy, and in the 1990s, a major
topic of public debate. This classic theoretical concept has expanded and diversified
its meaning in controversial ways. The most interesting recent attempts to define
(or redefine) citizenship are those that delve into the two great intellectual
traditions where the concept originated and flourished, civic republicanism and
liberalism, and connect to the old dilemma of how to reconcile "la liberte des
anciennes" and "la liberte des modernes.''1
The problematic of citizenship has also informed studies of the past and has been
particularlyproductive in the field of political history. In the case of Latin America,
scholars are using this new lens to revisit the nineteenth century, when the
definition of citizenship and the constitution of a citizenry became key aspects of
the nation-building process triggered after independence. Most of the previous
historiography had interpreted that process in terms of the transition of the
Western world from the ancien regime societies to the modern states, and of the
advancements made, and the obstacles encountered, in the linear and progressive
path that presumably led from the former to the latter. The new literature has
questioned this linear view, and by introducing the problematic of citizenship, it has

This work was mainly written while I was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral
Sciences, in Stanford, California, in 1998-1999, and concluded in Buenos Aires. I am grateful for
financial support provided by the Citicorp Foundation in the United States and by the University of
Buenos Aires (UBACyT Program) in Argentina. I presented earlier versions for discussion at the
Center for Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley; the Latin American
Program at Stanford University; and the Colloquium Series Citizenship,Cultureand Democracy at the
Center for History, Society, and Culture, University of California, Davis. I wish to thank the audiences
for the comments I received during those presentations, as well as the AHR anonymous referees. My
special gratitude to Nancy Cott, who made valuable suggestions for the original version.
' See Salvatore Veca, Cittadinanza:Riflessionifilosofiche sull'idea di emancipazione (Milan, 1990);
Chantal Mouffe, ed., Dimensions of Radical Democracy:Pluralism, Citizenship,Community(London,
1992); Ronald Beiner, ed., TheorizingCitizenship(Albany, N.Y., 1995); Paul Clarke, Deep Citizenship
(Chicago, 1996); Ruth Lister, Citizenship:Feminist Perspectives (London, 1997); Bryan Turner and
Peter Hamilton, eds., Citizenship:Critical Concepts (London, 1994), among others.


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1291

both enriched and complicated the picture of nineteenth-century political devel-

In what follows, and on the basis of this recent literature, I shall reflect on some
of the main issues posed by the history of political citizenship in Latin America.
These issues will sound familiar to scholars concerned with other areas of the world
that were also deeply transformed by the passage from colonial rule to independent
government, the constitution of the nation-states, or the formation of polities based
on the principles of modern representation and popular sovereignty. Latin America
has, nevertheless, its particular history; moreover, each country within the region
followed its own path to political organization. By reviewing the work on specific
cases informed by a common perspective-a shared interest in political citizen-
ship-this essay seeks to identify the most salient problems in the political history
of nineteenth-century Latin America and to provide an analytical survey useful for
establishing comparisons with other regions of the world.

DURING THE EARLY YEARS of the nineteenth century, Spain and its American
territories entered a period of great and radical transformations. In a very short
time, the edifice of the monarchy collapsed, and the subsequent attempts to hold
the old empire together on new bases failed. The old regime was dismembered, and
colonial America split into multiple parts. Wars and revolutions followed. Thus
started the long history of the formation of new polities, the redefinition of
sovereignties, the constitution of new political regimes. Attempts at nation building
followed different directions, and many a project was tried only to fail. There was
no linear or predetermined path that led to the nation-states; they eventually
consolidated during the second half of the nineteenth century.2
This complex history notwithstanding, from the River Plate to New Spain, the
polities that took shape after independence adopted sooner rather than later the
republican form of government based on the principle of popular sovereignty. At a
time when most of the Western world, with the conspicuous exception of the United
States, endorsed monarchy, Spanish America opted for the republic. Monarchywas
discussed almost everywhere, tried in some areas-such as Mexico-and in the end
dropped. The republican alternative entailed a radical change in the principles of
legitimization of political power and brought about the foundation of new political
Brazil offers a rather different story. Its independence from Portugal in 1822 was
a relatively "peaceful and negotiated process," which culminated in the creation of
a constitutional monarchy headed by Emperor Pedro I, the son of the Portuguese
king. Although many things changed with the establishment of the autonomous
empire, the transition from colony to independence was less disruptive than in the
former Spanish territories, and Brazil remained a single polity even after becoming

2 See, among others, Tulio Halperin Donghi, Reforma y disoluci6n de los imperios ibericos,
1750-1850 (Madrid, 1985); Frank Safford, "Politics, Ideology and Society," in Leslie Bethell, ed.,
SpanishAmerica after Independencec. 1820-c. 1870 (London, 1987), 48-122.


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1292 Hilda Sabato

a republic in 1889. The imperial constitution of 1824, however, introduced modern

forms of representation that changed the nature of the regime.3
The adoption of the principle of sovereignty of the people entailed a deep
transformation of the normative framework for the legitimization of political
power. In the revolutionary years and in the first decade of independence, most of
the constitutions drafted in Latin America sought to break with the colonial
political order, not only by instituting new political regimes based on modern
representation but also by introducing the liberal principle of political equality,
defining civil and political liberties, and establishing the juridical notion of the
individual. In that conflictive early period, the region was a fertile ground for the
circulation of different ideologies, social theories, and political doctrines. Among
the revolutionary elites, however, ideas and concepts originating in the Iberian and
French Enlightenment, Anglo-Saxon liberalism and civic humanism, and French
Jacobinism prevailed, and the first constitutions bear witness to those alignments.
This orientation did not preclude the inclusion of political motifs that belonged to
other intellectual families, but the new norms pointed toward the radical modifi-
cation of the colonial order and the institution of a modern society and a
representative government.
This initial liberal drive was soon replaced by a more conservative mood, as the
hegemonic groups within the new elites grew increasingly concerned with political
instability and the possibility of social unrest. But some of the principles established
in the revolutionary years were there to stay, and although throughout the rest of
the century power changed hands many times, ideological influences varied, and
territorial boundaries were redefined, certain basic political principles remained the
same. In the republics of former Spanish America and in the Brazilian monarchy,
popular sovereignty and modern representation were always the norm.4
In that context, the definition of political citizenship and the formation of an
actual citizenry became important dimensions of the political transformations of
nineteenth-century Latin America. The figure of the modern citizen proposed by
the liberals-the abstract and universal individual, free and equal to the rest-
started to circulate early in the century,5when it overlapped with more traditional
notions of the body politic that evoked the institutions of colonial and even
pre-colonial times: the pueblos, the comunidades, the subject, the vecino (neighbor
or resident). This overlapping notwithstanding, the concept of citizen gained
increasing favor among the ascending revolutionary elites and found its way into the
first constitutions. The latter defined, and at the same time presumed, an ideal
citizen who was granted political rights and made a member of the national polity.
The legal definitions of and limits to citizenship varied from place to place, and they
also changed with time, stemming from the different strands of thought and beliefs
that informed the legislation of the new polities. At the same time, the actual
process of citizenship building had only partly to do with those normative
3 Jos6 Murilo de Carvalho,Desenvolvimientode la ciudadania en Brasil (Mexico City, 1995), 21-23.
4 Halperin Donghi, Reformay disoluci6n; Safford, "Politics, Ideology and Society."
5 The liberal notion of political citizenship presupposes, in the words of Pierre Rosanvallon, "a
complete break with the traditional conceptions of the body politic," now considered to consist of free
and equal individuals. Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen:Histoiredu suffrageuniverselen France (Paris,
1992), 14.


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1293

boundaries, as it resulted from the complex combination, negotiation, and confron-

tation of principles, expectations, and practices of different groups in society, both
dominant and subaltern, and from the articulation and rearticulation of new and
traditional social relations and hierarchies. The problem of political citizenship
opens, therefore, a vast field for investigation into the political history of nine-
teenth-century Latin America.
This is precisely the terrain being recently trod by scholars. In tune with
historians of other areas of the world, they are producing a new literature that is
significantlychanging our view of the transitions from colonial rule to independence
and of the diverse and complex histories of nation building in the region.6 I am
referring here not only to the texts that explicitly address the topic of political
citizenship but also to a larger corpus of works whose concerns may be broadly
included in that problematic.7
In the past, citizenship was not absent from the literature on the nineteenth
century. But its history was understood almost exclusively in terms of the
development of political rights, particularlythe right to vote, and measured against
an ideal modernizing course of gradual expansion of the franchise. The model of
progressive enfranchisement from a restricted to an enlarged citizenship was widely
used to interpret nineteenth-century political modernization in different areas of
the world.8 Historical cases that did not fit this model-and most of the Latin
American countries did not-were treated as deviations from the rule, anomalous
and imperfect in terms of their transition to modernity and democracy. The new
historical literature has left behind this restricted and linear approach and defined
a wider, multilayered view of political citizenship. Suffrage still has a central place
in the recent studies, but it has been reformulated, and there is a vast, innovative
6 There is a vast recent production on the history of citizenship both for Europe and the United
States. See, among others, the works by Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen, and Le peuple introuvable:
Histoire de la representationdemocratiqueen France (Paris, 1998); Alain Garrigou, Le vote et la vertu:
Comment les Francais sont devenus electeurs (Paris, 1992); Raymond Huard, Le suffrage universelen
France, 1848-1946 (Aubier, 1991); Philip Nord, The RepublicanMoment: Strugglesfor Democracy in
Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge,Mass., 1995); Frank O'Gorman, Voters,Patronsand Parties:The
UnreformedElectorate of HanoverianEngland, 1734-1832 (Oxford, 1989); J. Vernon, Politics and the
People: A Study in English Political Culture, c. 1815-1867 (Cambridge, 1993); Paolo Pombeni, La
transformazionepolitica nell'Europaliberale,1870-1890 (Milan, 1986); Raffaele Romanelli, Il comando
impossibile: Stato e societai nell'Italia liberale (Bologna, 1995). For the United States, see Michael
Schudson, The Good Citizen:A Historyof American Civic Life (New York, 1998); Richard C. Sinopoli,
The Foundations of American Citizenship (New York, 1992); Roger Smith, Conflicting Visions of
Citizenshipin U.S. History (New Haven, Conn., 1997); Linda Kerber, No ConstitutionalRight to Be
Ladies: Womenand the Obligationsof Citizenship(New York, 1998); Mary Ryan, Civic Wars,Democracy
and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley, Calif., 1997); and
Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The ContestedHistory of Democracy in the United States (New
York, 2000).
7 Ten years ago, Frank Safford, in an excellent article that revised the current literature on Latin
American political history, pointed out that the field was still "in the first stages of historical research:
the analysis of ideas as expressed by the elite through printed materials" and added that little was
known about political processes or their social connections. Safford, "Politics, Ideology and Society,"
50. In the last few years, this situation has started to reverse, and to a great extent, this change may be
accounted for by the literature on citizenship, as well as by the cultural approaches to race, nationalism,
civil rituals, and popular culture in general.
8 One of the most penetrating and influential versions of the progressive model was formulated by
T. H. Marshall in his classic work Class, Citizenshipand Social Development (London, 1950). For a
recent appraisal of the significance of that work, see Martin Bulmer, ed., Citizenship Today: The
ContemporaryRelevance of T. H. Marshall (London, 1996).


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1294 Hilda Sabato

body of work on voting, elections, and electoral practices. At the same time, other
previously unnoticed or neglected dimensions have acquired increasing visibility.
Among them-in consonance with the present concern with the development of
civil society-the types and modes of sociability, the formation of public spheres,
and the construction of public opinion have become main topics of historical
inquiry. Their connection to citizenship is recuperated in the recent literature, and
therefore, when reflecting on its history in nineteenth-century Latin America, I am
incorporating these dimensions previously absent from the studies on the subject.9
Other aspects of citizenship also merit the attention of scholars. Among them,
the figure of the "armed citizen" and the role of the militias in the polity, the
relationship between taxation and representation, and the citizen involvement in
the jury system are explored in some of the current literature.10These topics are not
new in the historiography of Latin America, but only recently have they been
addressed from the point of view of political citizenship. In what follows, however,
I shall leave behind these dimensions that, though increasingly present in the
historical debates, have received until now less attention than those related to
suffrage, the elections, and electoral practices, and to the development of new
forms of sociability, the formation of a public sphere(s), and the construction of
public opinion in the different areas and periods of nineteenth-century Latin
America. It is to these topics that I shall now turn.

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE NEW POLITIES, that is, the new Latin American nations,
after the severance of the colonial bonds was a long, contested, and often
contradictoryprocess. The political map changed many times during those decades,
as different regional groups claimed their sovereignty and new states were defined
and redefined with changing boundaries and jurisdictions. At the same time,
competing ideas of the nation nurtured diverse national projects, endorsed by
different social and political groups. The model of the modern, unified nation,
consisting of equal individuals, potential citizens of the republics to be, circulated

9 One of the most compelling-pioneer analyses of the relationship between voting and other forms
of involvement in public life is Albert C. Hirschman, ShiftingInvolvements:PrivateInterestand Public
Action (Princeton, N.J., 1982).
10 See, among others, Sarah C. Chambers, From Subjectsto Citizens:Honor, Gender and Politics in
Arequipa,Peru, 1780-1854 (University Park, Pa., 1999); Jos6 Murilo de Carvalho, "Dimensiones de la
ciudadanfa en el Brasil del siglo XIX," in Hilda Sabato, coord., Ciudadaniapoli'ticay formaci6n de las
naciones:Perspectivashist6ricasde AmericaLatina (Mexico City, 1999); and Carvalho,Desenvolvimiento
de la ciudadania; Fernando Escalante Gonzalbo, Ciudadanos imaginarios (Mexico City, 1992);
Francisco Guti6rrez Sanfn, Cursoy discurso del movimientoplebeyo (Bogota, 1995); Alicia Hernandez-
Chavez, La tradici6n republicana del buen gobierno (Mexico City, 1993); Marta Irurozqui, "Las
paradojas de la tributaci6n: Ciudadanfay politica estatal indfgena en Bolivia, 1825-1900," Revista de
Indias 59, no. 217 (1999); and Irurozqui, 'A bala, piedra y palo": La construcci6n de la ciudadania
politica en Bolivia, 1826-1952 (Seville, 2000); Alberto Lettieri, La republicade la opini6n: Politica y
opini6n publica en Buenos Aires entre 1852 y 1862 (Buenos Aires, 1998); Victor Peralta Ruiz, "El mito
del ciudadano armado: La 'Semana Magna' y las elecciones de 1844 en Lima," in Sabato, Ciudadania
politica; Monica Quijada, "La ciudadanizaci6n del 'indio barbaro':Politicas oficiales y oficiosas hacia
la poblaci6n indfgena en la pampa y la Patagonia, 1870-1920," Revista de Indias 59, no. 217 (1999);
Charles Walker, SmolderingAshes: Cuzco and the Creationof RepublicanPeru, 1780-1840 (Durham,
N.C., 1999); Mark Thurner, From Two Republics to One Divided: Contradictions of Postcolonial
Nationmakingin Andean Peru (Durham, 1997).


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1295

early on in the nineteenth century, but it came in many different versions and
experienced successive transformations. All the while, other, corporate and plural,
notions of the nation coexisted and competed with the liberal projects. When the
actual nation-states consolidated in the second half of the nineteenth century, the
liberal matrix had prevailed, but traditions and modernities combined in many
complex ways.1"
Throughout this long and intricate process, political representation played a
crucial role. The option for the republic in Spanish America, and for a constitu-
tional monarchy in Brazil, introduced that issue from the start. The traditional,
colonial ways of representation were challenged, and eventually displaced, by the
new forms championed by the French Revolution, American democracy, and
Spanish liberalism. "The people or the nation cannot speak, cannot act but through
their representatives": this widely repeated statement formulated in revolutionary
France by Abbe Sieyes summarizes the basic principle of modern representative
government.12The election of the representatives was indicated as the main and the
ideal form of political action on the part of the people. Modern representatives
differed from those of the ancien regime societies. They were not supposed to act as
delegates of any group or sector in particular, nor were they to be limited by the
traditional imperative mandate. They represented, and at the same time produced,
the will of the nation, the abstract community formed by individual citizens. Hence
elections became a key aspect of the new system of government and a crucial
moment in the relationship with the governed. The right to choose and to be chosen
constituted the core of the political rights enjoyed by the citizens.13
Elections had long been practiced in the colonies, but only after 1812 did the old
forms of representation start to give way to the new ones. In this respect, the Ca'diz
Constitution had a pervasive influence in some areas of Latin America during the
last years of colonial rule and the initial independent period.14The countries that
11 Scholars have proposed different interpretations of this process. See Fran?ois-Xavier Guerra,
Modernidade independencias:Ensayos sobre las revolucioneshispdnicas (Madrid, 1992); Jos6 Carlos
Chiaramonte, Ciudades, provincias, estados: Origenes de la Naci6n Argentina (1800-1846) (Buenos
Aires, 1997); Carvalho, Desenvolvimientode la ciudadania; Halperin Donghi, Reforma y disoluci6n;
Florencia Mallon, Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley, Calif.,
1995); David A. Brading, TheFirstAmerica:The SpanishMonarchy,CreolePatriotsanidthe LiberalState,
1492-1867 (Cambridge, 1991); Gabriel Negretto and Jos6 Antonio Aguilar Rivera, "Rethinking the
Legacy of the Liberal State in Latin America: The Cases of Argentina (1853-1916) and Mexico
(1857-1910)," Journal of Latin American Studies 32, no. 2 (2000), among others. The failure of
liberalism is strongly claimed in the classic works by Claudio V6liz, The CentralistTraditionof Latin
America (Princeton, N.J., 1980); and Richard Morse, "The Heritage of Latin America," in Louis Hartz,
ed., The Founding of New Societies (New York, 1964).
12 Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen; William H. Sewell, Jr., A Rhetoric of BourgeoisRevolution: The
Abbe Sieyes and WhatIs the ThirdEstate? (Durham, N.C., 1994).
13 See, among others, Giovanni Sartori, Elementi di teoriapolitica (Bologna, 1983); Giuseppe Duso,
La rappresentanza:Un problema di filosofia politica (Milan, 1988); D. P6caut and B. Sorj, eds.,
Metamorphosede la representationpolitique (Paris, 1991); Rosanvallon, Le peuple introuvable;and the
classic book by Hanna Pitkin, The Concept of Representation(Berkeley, Calif., 1967).
14 Guerra, Modernidade independencias;Marie-Danielle Dem6las-Bohy, "Modalidades y significa-
cion de elecciones generales en los pueblos andinos, 1813-14," in Antonio Annino, coord., Historia de
las elecciones en Iberoamerica,siglo XIX: De la formaci6n del espacio politico nacional (Buenos Aires,
1995); Antonio Annino, "Cadiz y la revoluci6n territorial de los pueblos mexicanos, 1812-1821," in
Annino, Historia de las elecciones; Antonio Annino, "Ciudadanfaversus gobernabilidadrepublicana en
Mexico: Los origenes de un dilema," in Sabato, Ciudadaniapolitica; Virginia Guedea, "Las primeras
elecciones populares en la ciudad de M6xico, 1812-1813," Estudios mexicanos 7 (1991); Jaime E.


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1296 Hilda Sabato

successively came to being after that transition also adopted elections as the only
formally legitimate access to public office and the prescribed means to exercise
political freedom.
The study of elections and suffrage has been a longstanding preoccupation of
political history, not only in Latin America. In recent years, however, scholars have
revised the prevailing approaches to those topics and have formulated new
questions and produced original research that have changed our view of nineteenth-
century electoral history both in Europe and the Americas. Much of the former
literature was informed by the progressive model of expansion of the suffrage, and
the actual histories of the right to vote were frequently squeezed into that mold or
measured against it. At the same time, since electoral practices did not necessarily
respond to the normative parameters defined by the laws, scholars often regarded
them, with a condemning eye, as "corrupt."They also dismissed elections as of little
consequence in the face of other, presumablymore effective means to reach power,
such as the use of military force. Today, the historiography understands the
electoral and the military side of politics as closely related, and is more concerned
with examining the transformation of suffrage and the actual role of elections and
electoral practices in different cases than with exposing their vices.15
In Latin America, the first of these dimensions-the history of the right to
vote-has attracted increasing attention on the part of scholars. In trying to identify
the subject of representation, they have revised the constitutions and laws drafted
throughout the period in the different areas, as well as the debates on that issue. As
mentioned above, the liberal figure of the citizen overlapped with other notions of
the subject of representation, such as the pueblos, the comunidades, and above all,
the vecino, a concept that was frequently subsumed with that of citizen. Between
1813 and 1855, for example, all the electoral laws in Mexico stipulated as a main
requisite for potential voters that they be "vecinos" of their locality. The word
persisted in different contexts and probably referred to changing realities, but its
usage always connoted the grounding of the abstract citizen in the particular
territorial and social conditions of a concrete community. In other polities, the
concept did not show a strong pattern of persistence; it tended to wither away in
favor of the more modern term of citizen. That word, in turn, did not always refer
strictly to the liberal version of "the abstract and universal individual, free and

Rodriguez O., La independenciade la America espafiola (Mexico City, 1996); and "Nacionalismo y
ciudadania en M6xico, 1808-1825," Tiempos de America 1 (1997); Victor Peralta Ruiz, "Elecciones,
constitucionalismo y revoluci6n en el Cusco, 1809-1815," Revistade Indias 56, no. 206 (1996); Hira de
-Gortari Rabiela, "Ayuntamientos y ciudadanos: La ciudad de M6xico y los estados, 1812-1827,"
Tiemposde America 1 (1997).
15 This perspective has produced interesting historiographical results in Europe. See, for example,
Garrigou, Le vote et la vertu;Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen;Daniel Gaxie, dir., Explicationdu vote:
Un bilan des etudes electorales en France (Paris, 1985); Patrice Gueniffey, "Le moment du vote: Les
systemes electoraux de la p6riode revolutionnaire,"Revue frangaise de science politique 43 (February
1993); JavierTusell, ed., El sufragiouniversal(Madrid, 1991); Raffaele Romanelli, "Le regole del gioco:
Note sull'impianto del sistema elettorale in Italia (1848-1895)," Quadernistorici, n.s., 69 (1988); Franco
Andreucci, "La norma e la prassi: Le elezioni irregolari nell'Italia liberale (1861-1880)," Passatoe
presente 13, no. 34 (January-April 1995); Frank O'Gorman, "The Culture of Elections in England:
From the Glorious Revolution to the First World War, 1688-1914," in Eduardo Posada-Carb6, ed.,
Elections before Democracy: The History of Elections in Europe and Latin America (New York, 1996),
among others.


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On Political Citizenshipin Nineteenth-Century
Latin America 1297

equal to the rest," as it frequently admitted qualifications that originated in other

conceptual frameworks.16
Yet who were these "citizens"? The boundaries of political citizenship were
prima facie defined by the breadth of political rights, particularlythe right to vote,
which proved extremely variable. Immediately after independence, in most of
Spanish America, the right to vote was widely extended to the male population. All
free, non-dependent, adult males were enfranchised, including those who belonged
to the Indian population.17 The normative notion of citizen that prevailed came
closer to the postrevolutionary French citoyen than to John Locke's property owner.
According to Pierre Rosanvallon, in France the only distinction "allowed by the
abstraction of equality was that which pertains to the nature of the actual juridical
subjects (age, sex, etc.)." Similarly,in the new polities, the electoral laws established
few restrictions to the male franchise, and these were not based mainly on property
or literacy barriers. Nor were ethnic distinctions included. The requisites of age, sex
(women were not even mentioned; they were "naturally"ruled out), and residence
were common to all areas, while in most of them, dependent males (servants,
domesticos) were also excluded. Slaves were ruled out everywhere. The hierarchies
of the colonial society were thus partially erased, in favor- of new political
These initial boundaries were modified during the 1820s and 1830s. In most areas
of the region, the elites increasingly attributed the difficulties in founding a stable
political order to the extended suffrage. The introduction of the French doctri-
naire's differentiation between active and passive citizens paved the way for a new
definition of the ideal citizen. In several places, there were proposals to introduce
property, income, or literacy qualifications to the franchise. These provisions,
however, did not always find their way into the legislation, and, from this point
onward, the electoral history of each country followed a different and zigzag path
not easily included in a general pattern.
The case of Peru illustrates the complexities of the history of suffrage. On the
16 Guerra, Modernidade independencias;Francois-Xavier Guerra, "El soberano y su reino: Reflex-
iones sobre la g6nesis del ciudadano en Am6rica Latina," in Sabato, Ciudadaniapolitica; Chiaramonte,
Ciudades,provincias, estados; Jos6 Carlos Chiaramonte,with Marcela Ternavasio and Fabian Herrero,
"Vieja y nueva representaci6n: Los procesos electorales en Buenos Aires, 1810-1820," in Annino,
Historia de las elecciones; Chiaramonte, "Ciudadania, soberania y representacion en la genesis del
estado argentino (c. 1810-1852)," in Sabato, Ciudadania politica; Alicia Hernandez Chavez, La
tradicionrepublicanadel buengobierno (Mexico City, 1993); Annino, "Cadizy la revolucion territorial";
and "Ciudadania versus gobernabilidad";Dem6las-Bohy, "Modalidades y significaci6n"; Chambers,
From Subjectsto Citizens;Jos6 Murilo de Carvalho, Os bestializados:0 Rio de Janeiroe a republicaque
nao foi (Sao Paulo, 1987); Hans-Joachim K6nig,Auf dem Wegezur Nation: Nationalismusim Prozessder
Staats- und NationsbildungNeu-Granadas 1750-1856 (Stuttgart, 1988); Roland Anrup and Vicente
Oieni, "Ciudadaniay naci6n en el proceso de emancipaci6n,"Anales (Universidad de G6teborg) 2
(1999), nueva epoca.
17 In many areas of Latin America, particularly in the Andean regions of Mexico, Peru, Bolivia,
Ecuador, and Central America, Indians and mestizos comprised a significant percentage of the total
population and an even higher proportion of the popular classes.
18 Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen, 70-71; FranGois-XavierGuerra, "Las metamorfosis de la
representaci6n en el siglo XIX," in Georges Couffignal, comp., Democracias posibles: El desafio
latinoamericano (Buenos Aires, 1994, French original edn., 1992). The exception to the rule was
Venezuela, where the constitution of 1811 established income and literacy qualifications. See Orlando
Tovar, "Las instituciones electorales en Venezuela," Autores varios, Sistemas electoralesy representa-
ci6n politica en Latinoamerica (Madrid, 1986).


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1298 Hilda Sabato

brink of total victory against the Spanish army, the liberal constitution of 1823
granted voting rights to all Peruvian men-Indians included-married or over
twenty-fiveyears of age, who could read and write, and were property owners or had
a profession or trade or were employed in a "useful industry," and did not belong
to the class of servants or journeymen. The application of the literacy requirement
was explicitly postponed until 1840 and, later on, abolished for Indians and
mestizos, who thus remained potential members of the electorate regardless of
their capacity to read or write. This broad definition of voting rights was expanded
by the short-lived reforms of 1856, which also introduced direct voting. The
Peruvian constitution of 1860 and the subsequent electoral law of 1861 returned to
indirect elections and established new conditions for voting. Nonetheless, the
requirements were even less constraining than in 1823: voting rights were granted
to all Peruvians, married or over twenty-one, who could read and write or owned
real property or had a craft industry or paid taxes. Restrictions only came later on
in the century, with the electoral law of 1896. Both ideological and political
considerations led to the incorporation of direct elections with literacy requisites
for voting, which in practice basically meant the exclusion of the Indian population
from the electorate, a condition that persisted well into the twentieth century.19
Chile, in turn, shows a more conventional pattern. The constitution of 1833
limited the suffrage to all literate adult men who met the-rather low-property or
income requirements. The electoral law of 1874 introduced a decisive modification,
in a sentence that read: "it is presumed that he who knows how to read and write
has the income required by the law." Thus literacy remained the actual limitation
to suffrage until 1970.20 Across the Andes, Argentina followed a completely
different path. As part of the Viceroyalty of the River Plate, which split soon after
the revolution of independence into several different polities,21 the territory that
eventually formed the Argentine Republic was for several decades a confederation
of states, each with its own electoral legislation. In Buenos Aires, the most powerful
of the provinces, a law of 1821 established universal male suffrage and direct
elections for the House of Representatives. Several attempts to restrict voting rights
did not succeed. On the contrary,with the unification of the country and the passing
of the national constitution in 1853, universal male suffrage was established in the
whole territory, and for good. A combined system of direct and indirect elections
was implemented, the former for the national representatives, the latter for the
senators (chosen by the state legislature) and for the president (by an electoral
19Jorge Basadre, Eleccionesy centralismoen el Peru (Lima, 1980); Gabriella Chiaramonti, "Andes o
Naci6n: La reforma electoral de 1896 en Peru," in Annino, Historia de las elecciones; and "Riforma
elettorale e centralismo notabiliare a Trujillo (Peru) tra Otto e Novecento," Quademi storici, n.s., 69
(1988); Carmen McEvoy,La utopia republicana:Idealesy realidadesen la formaci6n de la culturapolitica
peruana (1875-1919) (Lima, 1997); Ulrich Muicke, Der "PartidoCivil" in Peru, 1871-1879 (Stuttgart,
1998); Vincent C. Peloso, "Liberals, Electoral Reform, and the Popular Vote in Mid-Nineteenth-
Century Peru," in Peloso and Barbara A. Tenenbaum, eds., Liberals, Politics, and Power: State
Formation in Nineteenth-CenturyLatin America (Athens, Ga., 1996).
20 J. Samuel Valenzuela, Democratizaci6n via reforma:La expansi6n del sufragio en Chile (Buenos
Aires, 1985).
21 The Viceroyalty was fragmented, and eventually the republics of Uruguay, Paraguay,Bolivia, and
Argentina were carved out of its territory.
22 Paula Alonso, "Voting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before 1912,"in Posada Carb6,Elections before


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1299

In countries such as Mexico and imperial Brazil, an extensive franchise came

together with an indirect system of representation that required property or literacy
qualifications from the national electors in the second and third stages of voting. It
was a system with an ample base and a hierarchical structure at the intermediate
levels.23In Brazil, slaves had always been excluded from suffrage, but an important
number of freedmen enjoyed that right for many decades. The electoral law of 1881
introduced direct elections, but at the same time, it established literacy qualifica-
tions that limited the franchise (see below). In Mexico, the liberal constitution of
1857 replaced the three-tiered system by one that was indirect only in the first
degree; that is, citizens voted for electors, who in turn selected the representa-
These few examples suffice to show that the legal definition of the subject of
representation, the citizen, did not follow the path of gradual expansion from the
privileged few to increasingly broader sectors of the population, as was frequently
assumed in much of the literature on political citizenship. The pattern is much more
complex and highly variable, but the entire region seems to share a common trait
in the nineteenth century: "There is no gradual conquest of suffrage."25Rather, in
some countries, such as Peru or Brazil, the opposite seems to be the case, while in
others such as Argentina, there was no significant variation in the legislation
throughout the century. In any case, although the constitutions and the laws
established the boundaries of political citizenship, in order to study its actual
development it is important to turn from the norms to the practices, as the recent
literature on this problem has done.

THROUGHOUT THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, in most areas of Latin America, elections

to choose local, regional, and national representatives, both direct and indirect,
were held regularly and very frequently-in many places, several times a year. They
were the prescribed way to public office.26In most countries, however, the military
road of access to power persisted well beyond the years of the revolution of
independence, and for a great part of the nineteenth century it coexisted and
combined with the electoral one. In others, such as Chile and Argentina after 1862,
elections became increasingly the rule, and violence, albeit never completely

Democracy; Chiaramonte, "Vieja y nueva representaci6n"; Hilda Sabato and Elias Palti, "Qui6n
votaba en Buenos Aires? Practica y teoria del sufragio, 1850-1880," Desarrolloecon6mico 119 (1990);
Hilda Sabato, La politica en las calles: Entre el voto y la movilizaci6n;Buenos Aires, 1862-1880 (Buenos
Aires, 1998), in English as TheMany and the Few (Stanford, Calif., 2001); Marcela Ternavasio, "Nuevo
r6gimen representativoy expansi6n de la frontera politica: Las elecciones en el estado de Buenos Aires,
1820-1840," in Annino, Historia de las elecciones; and "Hacia un regimen de unanimidad: Politica y
elecciones en Buenos Aires, 1828-1850," in Sabato, Ciudadaniapolitica.
23 Annino, "Cadizy la revoluci6n territorial";Richard Graham,Patronageand Politics in Nineteenth-

CenturyBrazil (Stanford, Calif., 1990).

24 Hernandez, La tradici6nrepublicana;Graham,Patronageand Politics; Carvalho,Desenvolvimiento
de la ciudadania.
25 The expression refers to the case of France, in Rosanvallon, Le sacre du citoyen, 101.
26 Even in situations of no political competition-due to the elimination of all opposition, to the
complete control of the electoral scene on the part of the government, or both-elections were
carefully and regularly held. See, for example, the case of the Rosas regime in Buenos Aires in
Ternavasio, "Hacia un r6gimen de unanimidad."


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1300 Hilda Sabato

eradicated, tended to recede as a means to reach government posts. In all cases,

however, elections played an important role in the political competition among the
elites (and would-be elites) and in the legitimization of power.
As in other areas of the world at the time, electoral practices did not necessarily
respond to the established norms. They also differed a great deal from our own
contemporary practices. For a long time, therefore, the literature on the subject
cast a denunciatory eye on nineteenth-century elections and described their
manipulative aspects. As mentioned above, this approach has recently lost favor
among scholars. In a pioneering work on European and Latin American electoral
history, Antonio Annino and Raffaele Romanelli reacted against the tendency to
"consider liberalism as the antecedent of a predestined democratic evolution" and
referred to the specific nature of the liberal order in matters of representation.
They emphasized "the efforts made by a non-egalitarian society ... to translate an
organic and hierarchical order into institutions like the constitutions and the
electoral laws, whose rationale is basically individualistic and quantitative." In that
context, they see electoral practices not as a way of ignoring or distorting the norms
but rather as a means of making them operative in each particular situation.27
In a similar manner, recent works explore electoral practices in specific settings.
Who participated on each occasion? How was the electoral scene constructed?
Which were the formal and informal rules of the game? What were the results?
There is no single answer to any one of these questions, as the situation varied
greatly from place to place and from year to year. There are, however, some
common traits that merit our attention.28
Electoral practices played a key role in the formation of a political sphere that
was related in very complex ways to the social sphere but could in no way be
subsumed into it. Such practices were a core aspect of the network building that was
carried out by new and old elites at the local, regional, and national levels. Powerful
caudillos, who had both military power and social influence, seldom failed to
27 Antonio Annino and Raffaele Romanelli, "Premesa,"Quadernistorici, n.s., 69 (1988): 675 and 677.
For a recent appraisal of the literature on "corrupt"electoral practices in Latin America, see Eduardo
Posada Carb6, "Electoral Juggling: A Comparative History of the Corruption of Suffrage in Latin
America, 1830-1930," Journalof Latin American Studies 32, no. 3 (2000). An interesting discussion on
fraud in Costa Rica is in lvan Molina and Fabrice Edouard Lehoucq, "Political Competition and
Electoral Fraud: A Latin American Case Study,"Journal of InterdisciplinaryHistory 30, no. 2 (1999).
28 The following titles represent a selection of the main works on which this section is based.
Chambers,From Subjectsto Citizens;Carvalho,Os bestializados;and Desenvolvimientode la ciudadania;
Malcolm Deas, "Algunasnotas sobre la historia del caciquismo en Colombia,"Revistade Occidente127
(1993); Pilar Gonzalez Bernaldo, Civiliteet politique aux originesde la nation Argentine:Les sociabilites
a Buenos Aires, 1829-1862 (Paris, 1999); Graham, Patronage and Politics; Tulio Halperin Donghi,
Proyectoy construcci6nde una naci6n: (Argentina1846-1880) (Caracas, 1980); Hernandez Chavez, La
tradici6nrepublicana;Marta Irurozqui, "Ebrios,vagos y analfabetos: El sufragio restringido en Bolivia,
1826-1952," Revista de Indias 56, no. 208 (1996); and 'A bala, piedra y palo"; Carmen McEvoy,
"Estampillasy votos: El rol del correo politico en la campana electoral decimon6nica," Hist6rica 18
(1994); and McEvoy, La utopia republicana;Miicke, Der "PartidoCivil";Peloso, "Liberals, Electoral
Reform, and the Popular Vote"; Peralta Ruiz, "Elecciones, constitucionalismo y revoluci6n en el
Cusco";Eduardo Posada-Carb6,"Elections and Civil Wars in Nineteenth-Century Colombia: The 1875
Presidential Campaign,"Journalof Latin American Studies 26 (1994); Sabato and Palti, "Qui6n votaba
en Buenos Aires?"; and Sabato, La politica en las calles; Valenzuela, Democratizaci6n via reforma;
Walker, SmolderingAshes; and the articles included in the collective volumes: Annino, Historia de las
elecciones; Carlos Malamud, comp., Partidos politicos y elecciones en America Latina y la Peninsula
Iberica, 1830-1930 (Madrid, 1995); Posada-Carb6, Elections before Democracy; Sabato, Ciudadania
politica; and Quadernistorici, n.s., 69 (1988).


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1301

operate in that field, while newcomers to the political game found there a fertile
ground for their ascension.
The key to electoral success was the creation and mobilization of clienteles in
networks that had strong vertical components and at the same time articulated
horizontally with other similar networks. In that context, actual voters were far
removed from the image of the autonomous, individual citizen in full command of
his political rights, who attends the polls peacefully to cast his ballot. Rather, in
most countries of Latin America, voters belonged to electoral forces, mobilized
collectively by factions or parties and by the government in order to participate in
generally tumultuous, and often violent, elections. Manipulation, political patron-
age, and control always played important parts in this story, but so did conflict and
negotiation. In some cases, the relationship between the leaders and their followers
was rooted in social bonds; in others, it was mainly forged in the political realm. Yet
in all cases, the electoral practices contributed to the articulation of political
networks that incorporated various groups of people into the electoral game. Men
(and occasionally women) from very different social and ethnic backgrounds took
part in these networks, which also were the site for the construction of political
traditions and leaderships.
A wide range of leaders and followers were part of the electoral machines that
produced the votes, generating a dense web of exchanges in the process. Examples
abound for different periods and areas of nineteenth-century Latin America, each
case having its own peculiar traits and trajectory. From the Brazilian patronage
system, strongly grounded on social hierarchy, to the Buenos Aires politically based
urban machines of the 1860s and 1870s, or the Mexican mobilization of peasant
communities embedded in regional webs of power, these networks differed greatly
in their origin, scope, membership, organization, and form of action. Also, they
showed different levels of cohesion and continuity. Sometimes, they were organized
on an ad hoc basis to act in a specific situation to support a particular candidate. At
other times, they became part of a more permanent political structure: the party.
This last development contradicted some of the prevailing ideas on political
representation. The nation was widely understood as an indivisible whole. Elec-
tions, for their part, were considered a means to select the best men of all to
represent the whole, rather than to guarantee the representation of the different
interests and sectors of society. Therefore, for a good part of the nineteenth
century, the concept of "party"was controversial, and actual parties were critically
labeled "factions," a word that had negative connotations of divisiveness and
partisanship.29In spite of these misgivings, the parties became key actors in the
electoral game, as well as important centers for the action of those who were-or
hoped to be-in power, for the convergence of political interests, and for the
development of material networks and symbolic webs that defined political
In several Latin American countries, a key ideological and political divide
29 The same reaction toward political parties is observed in France, England, and the United States

up to the middle of the nineteenth century. See, among others, Manin, "M6tamorphoses du
gouvernment." In most countries of Latin America, this attitude prevailed longer, in some cases until
the turn of that century.
30 It is not my purpose here to delve into the many debates and the vast literature that relate to the


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1302 Hilda Sabato

separated the liberals from the conservatives. Yet that was not the only line of
cleavage to be found among groups that competed for power, and party alignment
could respond to other divisions. Class interest, however, did not become a
nucleating force until late in the century, and then only in some places. Parties
could prove long-lived, as in Uruguay and Colombia, or more ephemeral, as in
Argentina or Peru, but throughout the region they were generally loose structures
mainly held together by personal ties. The electoral networks associated with the
parties, on the other hand, were tighter, hierarchical organizations with leaders
operating at different levels. This multilayered leadership recruited the rank-and-
file members of these "machines" from a wide range of social sectors, from the
urban artisans and professional classes to the peasants and the rural poor. At the
same time, these networks were articulated horizontally into political forces at the
regional and national level, and formed the broad electoral bases of the parties.
How large were these bases? The figures on electoral participation may shed
some light on this question. Although there is a wide range of different situations,
in most cases a very low proportion of the total population-sometimes even as low
as .02 percent, very often around 2 percent, nearly always below 5 percent-usually
voted. Even among those qualified to vote, the turnout very seldom reached half of
the potential voters. Similar figures are, by the way, found in several European
countries throughout the century.31In Latin America, there were some exceptions
to the rule. In the Mexican general elections of 1851, for example, the voters
represented around 20 percent of the total population. And imperial Brazil had a
turnout of one million in the 1870s, a figure that represented 10 percent of the total
population and 50 percent of the enfranchised (including a relevant number of
freed slaves). In both countries, however, elections were then held under a
three-tiered indirect system. After the passing of the Brazilian electoral law of 1881
(which introduced both direct elections and literacy qualifications to the suffrage),
the number of voters dropped drastically to 100,000, a low .8 percent of the total
population. These figures did not experience any significant rise with the establish-
ment of a republican government in 1889 or the approval of the 1891 electoral bill.
In the following presidential election of 1894, voters represented only 2.2 percent
of the population. Legislation was not always so decisive to the turnout. In
Argentina, for example, universal male suffrage had been in force since 1853, yet

history of the political parties in nineteenth-century Latin America, but only to call attention to the fact
that electoral networks played a part in those parties' structure and developments.
31 In Italy, in the first election for representatives to Parliament in 1861, only 1.9 percent of the
population qualified to vote, and the turnout was 57 percent. The first figure rose to 6.9 percent only
after the passing of the electoral law of 1881. In Spain, before universal male suffrage was established
in 1890, the electorate represented around 5 percent of the total population, and in the 1870s,
abstention was always above two-thirds.The existence of the three-class system of voting in Prussia, and
the curial system in Austria, both of which tied voting power to social categories, does not allow for a
strict comparison with Italy and Spain, where voters were considered equals. Nevertheless, as late as
the 1890s, in Austrian cities, around 7 percent of the population were eligible to vote. See Pier Luigi
Ballini, Le elezioni nella storia d'Italia dall'a Unita al fascismo (Bologna, 1988); Alicia Yanini, "La
manipulacion electoral en Espafia: Sufragio universal y participaci6n ciudadana (1891-1923)," in
Tusell, El sufragio universal;Eugene N. Anderson and Pauline R. Anderson, Political Institutionsand
Social Changein ContinentalEurope in the Nineteenth Century(Berkeley, Calif., 1967); Thomas Kuihne,
Dreiklassenwahlrechtund Wahlkulturin Preussen 1867-1914 (Dusseldorf, 1994).


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1303

the number of voters was extremely variable, and the proportion of those qualified
to vote who actually showed up on polling days very seldom reached 20 percent.32
In the constitutions and electoral legislation, elections were considered the
proper means to produce political representation. The people, however, did not
always understand voting to be a desirable or significant way of participating in the
polity. The image of a people eager to exercise their voting rights proves
anachronistic for many nineteenth-century societies. The political elites frequently
complained about "the indifference" or "the lack of civic spirit" among the entitled
citizens. Quite often, the mounting of political machines was a means not only to
control voting but also to make it happen. They actively recruited potential voters,
who thus enjoyed the material and symbolic compensations of belonging to a
clientele. Consequently-and somewhat paradoxically-rank-and-file voters were
mainly recruited from among the popular classes.
The reasons for the widespread reluctance to exercise the prescribed form of
political freedom are probably variable and complex. The concept of modern
representation was too abstract to be rapidly accepted by vast sectors of the
population, although this probably changed with time. Its incorporation into the
political culture of most societies was the result of a long, contradictory, and
contested social and cultural process.33 Moreover, the act of voting was often a
collective move, which mainly attracted those groups who had been previously
mobilized and incorporated into the political networks. It was also frequently quite
violent, so that it discouraged free riders.
Among the upper echelons of society, personal influence with and family ties to
the politically powerful could make electoral individual participation seem super-
fluous. In such cases, absence from the polls did not necessarily mean indifference
to the political strife or to ballot results. In many cases, elections played a key role
in the competition between different elite political groups, but even then, voting
was not always considered a necessary personal gesture. Rather, party sympathizers
trusted the political operators and leaders whose job was to mobilize the machine
and "produce" the vote.
In order to win, tight organization and control of a faithful following were more
important than sheer numbers. The party leaderships, therefore, were not always
interested in recruiting an ever-increasing quantity of voters. And although they
displayed a rich rhetoric on participation, citizenship, and the development of the
public spirit, in most cases they did little to encourage the mobilization of a vast
Due to these many different factors, electoral participation was often quite low
and variable. At the same time, its relationship to the development of a free and
32 Marcello Carmagnani and Alicia Hernandez Chavez, "La ciudadania organica mexicana, 1850-
1910," in Sabato, Ciudadaniapolitica; Graham, Patronageand Politics; Carvalho,Desenvolvimientode
la ciudadania; Alonso, "Voting in Buenos Aires"; Sabato, La politica en las calles; German Tjarks, et
al., "Aspectos cuantitativos del estado econ6mico y social de la ciudadania argentina potencialmente
votante (1860-1890)," Boletin del Instituto de Historia Argentina "Dr. E. Ravignani" 11, nos. 18-19
(Buenos Aires, 1969); David Bushnell, "El sufragio en la Argentina y Colombia hasta 1853,"Revistadel
Instituto de Historia del Derecho 19 (Buenos Aires, 1968); Juan Maiguashca, "The Electoral Reform of
1861 in Ecuador and the Rise of a New Political Order,"in Posada-Carb6,Elections beforeDemocracy.
33 This point is superbly argued for the Anglo-Saxon case in Edmund Morgan, Inventingthe People:
The Rise of Popular Sovereigntyin England and America (New York, 1988).


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1304 Hilda Sabato

independent citizen is far from obvious. Consequently, there is no single or simple

answer to the question of what was the role of elections and electoral networks in
the formation of an actual citizenry. We have now learned to dismiss both the
optimistic conclusion that all these practices helped to consolidate citizenship as
well as the pessimistic version that they basically obstructed its development. We
have also learned that the legal right to vote and even the practice of voting do not
necessarily turn a person into an autonomous citizen. Furthermore, rather than a
means of political representation, and therefore of relating civil society and the
state, electoral practices could become instruments internal to the game of politics.
But at the same time, these practices generated a field of action that incorporated
men from different social and ethnic sectors. The electoral networks constituted
new webs of sociability that, albeit based on unequal exchanges among the parts,
created spaces of shared political involvement and negotiation. Finally, the rhetoric
of representation displayed around the elections also had symbolic and ideological
effects that contributed to the circulation and reformulation of republican and
democratic ideas on citizenship among the population.34The role of voting rights,
elections, and electoral practices and networks in the formation of a citizenry
remains, therefore, a complex and open matter.

TOGETHER WITH THIS REVISION of the history of suffrage and elections, the recent
literature has brought to light a second dimension of the history of political
citizenship. In this case, scholars look away from the political realm into civil society
to inquire about the types and modes of sociability, the formation of public spheres,
and the construction of public opinion.
The use of these concepts is problematic. In the recent Latin American literature,
scholars have favored different definitions of civil society. In some North American
definitions, it has been employed to refer to the realm of the social that is not within
the sphere of the state, nor under the domain of the market. But other more
traditional variants have also been used that are closer to the dichotomous
conception of Hegelian undertones that includes the market within the orbit of civil
society and therefore confronts the latter with the state.35 As for the notion of
"sociability,"it was initially introduced to historical use by Maurice Agulhon and
defined by him in a very general way to refer to the associative ways, both formal
and informal, found in different historical and geographical contexts. The term was
widely used and criticized in the 1970s and 1980s in European historiography, and
has recently found some application in the literature on Latin America.36 The
concept of "public sphere," in turn, is applied to more specific social settings, that
34This last argument is strongly sustained by Irurozqui in 'A bala, piedra y palo."
35 For a survey of different theoretical approaches to, and debates on, civil society, see Jean Cohen
and Andrew Arato, Civil Society and Political Theory(Cambridge, Mass., 1992).
36 Maurice Agulhon introduced the usage of the sociological concept of sociabilite in his study La
sociabilitemeridionale:Confrerieset associations en Provenceorientaledans la deuxiememoitie du XVIIIe
siecle (Paris, 1966). See also his "La sociabilit6 est-elle objet de l'histoire?" in Etienne Francois, ed.,
Sociabilite et societe bourgeoiseen France, en Allemagne et en Suisse (1750-1850) (Paris, 1986). See
surveys of the literature on sociability in Maria Malatesta, "La storiografia della sociabilit'anegli anni
Ottanta," Cheiron 9-10 (1988); and Jordi Canal i Morell, "El concepto de sociabilidad en la
historiograffa contemporanea (Francia, Italia y Espafia)," Siglo XIX 13 (1993).


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1305

is, the rise and consolidation of bourgeois societies and modern polities. Juirgen
Habermas's formulation, originally drafted in the early 1960s, gained wide circu-
lation in the last decade and gave rise to heated theoretical debates.37Whether in
its original version or in later modified variants, it has informed numerous empirical
studies on the history of Latin American polities.
In spite of their controversial nature, these theoretical concepts have rendered
visible a new set of questions and problems seldom addressed when studying our
past. Historians have frequently made somewhat eclectic use of them, but rather
than analyzing the disparate ways in which they have been employed, I will refer to
their usefulness in opening new roads to scholarly inquiry.
The now vast literature on modern forms of sociability traces their origin to the
European eighteenth century. In Spain, as well as in France, England, and Prussia,
the spread of associations of a new type, based on the free will of their individual
members, inaugurated a whole new set of communicative practices presumably
governed by the laws of reason. It was a transformation that originated in the
development of the private realm and of a civil society in the making, and marked
the transition from traditional to modern forms of social organization. Whether or
not these changes affected the Latin American territories before the first decade of
the nineteenth century is a matter of controversy.38In the revolutionaryyears after
1808, however, all main cities in the colonies witnessed the creation of certain forms
of modern sociability and of a periodical press.39
The long period of wars triggered by the collapse of the Iberian empires was
followed by an even longer period of conflicts within their former territories. The
initial development of "modern" sociability did not continue in a linear or
progressive way. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the expansion of
associations and of an independent press-symptoms of the emergence of a
relatively autonomous civil society-was a rather limited process, only experienced
in some specific periods and places. Tertulias, salons, and literary or scientific circles
are mentioned as sites where new forms of reading and conversation nurtured a
dialogical exchange among the participants. Other, more traditional, forms of
sociability, however, proved quite vigorous, and religious brotherhoods or confra-
ternities, artisan guilds, and different forms of communal institutions were a
familiar feature of the Latin American landscape. Ritual and rumor continued to
play significant roles in the collective life of the polities, while new forms of public
celebrations and displays related to the republican liturgy proliferated. At the same
37 Habermas's book Strukturwandelder Offentlichkeitwas published in German in 1962, in Italian,
French, and Spanish in the 1970s and early 1980s, and in English only in 1989. There are numerous
articles and books that discuss the concept of "publicsphere" theorized in that work. See Arthur Strum,
"A Bibliography on the Concept of Offentlichkeit,"New German Critique61 (1994).
38 In his book Modernidad e independencias, Francois-Xavier Guerra argues that the diffusion of
modern sociability in the Spanish territories in America was a key element in changing the values and
social forms in these territories, and in establishing the conditions for independence. In a more recent
volume, however, the same scholar claims that this diffusion only took place during the time of the
revolution of independence, and that the earlier developments observed for Spain did not affect its
colonies. See Guerra, Annick Lemperiere, et al., Los espaciospublicos en Iberoamerica:Ambigiuedades
y problemas; Siglos XVIII-XIX(Mexico City, 1998).
39 See articles included in Guerra and Lemperiere, Los espacios publicos en Iberoamerica.Also,
Walker, Smoldering Ashes; Chambers, From Subjects to Citizens; Halperin Donghi, Reforma y


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1306 Hilda Sabato

time, a periodical press closely related to the political groups and the government
soon developed and became an important instrument in the political struggles for
In this variegated picture, the clear-cut difference between the traditional and
modern patterns of sociability introduced by the theoretical literature is hardly
applicable. The institutions and practices of the time show many combinations of
both types, as well as forms that do not fit in any of them. But the emphasis on that
difference is not just a product of current definitions. It was also a matter of concern
at the time, particularlywhere the enlightened elites gained power or influence in
those initial decades after independence.
As I mentioned earlier, the definition of citizenship and the constitution of a
citizenry were crucial aspects in the political life of the American territories. From
the standpoint of the enlightened elites, the majority of the population was not
ready to face the exacting demands imposed by the representative system. Although
this did not affect the extension of the franchise at first, in many countries it
eventually led to the introduction of restrictions to the right to vote (see above). Yet
these were considered as temporary solutions to a deeper problem. The long-term
answer to the challenges of modern representation was the "invention" of the
citizen.41 It was a matter of teaching the people the principles and values of the
Enlightenment. The extent of this "people" was a matter of debate among the
elites, who had different views as to the potential incorporation of Indians, blacks,
and women. But regardless of their convictions on the degree of inclusiveness, most
of the governments that adopted the enlightened creed promoted the creation of
educational and cultural institutions and the establishment of civil voluntary
associations (clubs, mutual aid societies, etc.), which were considered ideal sites for
the breeding of the new citizens. In the first half of the nineteenth century, these
efforts were not very successful. Different reasons may help to explain the rather
poor results, from the structural social conditions to the inconsistency and
incompetence of the reformatory administrations or the reluctance and resistance
found both within the elites and among wider sectors of society, who chose other
forms of collective action.
This failure did not prevent the governments of the new republics from invoking
public opinion as a source of their own legitimacy. Since the second half of the
40 In Buenos Aires, for example, during the 1820s and early 1830s, clubs, tertulias,salons, and other
forms of social groupings multiplied, and shared the urban arena with other more traditional bodies,
while newspaperswere on the increase. This movement was not restricted to the enlightened elites, and
broader sectors of the population, not least from the popular classes, shared the associative mood and
the benefits of the print culture. Only a few years later, however, the movement lost momentum; it
would not regain it until the second half of the century. See Gonzalez Bernaldo, Civiliteet politique;
Jorge Myers, "Languagesof Politics: A Study of Republican Discourse in Argentina from 1820 to 1852"
(PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1997); and Myers, "Una revoluci6n en las costumbres: Las
nuevas formas de sociabilidad de la elite portenia,1800-1860," Fernando Devoto and Marta Madero,
dir., Historia de la vidaprivada en la Argentina:Pais antiguo;De la colonia a 1870, vol. 1 (Buenos Aires,
1999); Mark Szuchman,Order,Family and Community:BuenosAires 1810-1860 (Stanford, Calif., 1988).
For Peru, see Carlos Forment, "La sociedad civil en el Peru del siglo XIX: Democratica o
disciplinaria,"in Sabato, Ciudadaniapolitica; Walker, SmolderingAshes; Jorge Basadre, Historia de la
Repuiblicadel Perui(Lima, 1961), esp. vols. 1 and 2; Chambers,From Subjectsto Citizens.For Mexico,
Escalante Gonzalbo, Ciudadanosimaginarios;Claudio Lomnitz, "Ritual, Rumor and Corruptionin the
Constitution of Polity in Modern Mexico," Journal of Latin AmericanAnthropology1 (1995).
41 Myers, "Languages of Politics."


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1307

eighteenth century, this concept was used in Europe to discuss the foundations of
political power and authority. In early nineteenth-century Latin America, public
opinion as the expression of the unitary will of the people-became a crucial
aspect of the modern representative system in formation and of the process of
nation building. The concept was subject to many interpretations. For those
enlightened elites who managed to control power in some places during the first
half of the century, public opinion was the rational expression of the will of the
citizens generated in the sites of modern sociability, particularlyin the press. Public
opinion together with suffrage were considered the only sources of political
legitimacy that should substitute for the old ways (violence and tradition). Yet if the
actual public did not respond to the enlightened and rational blueprint or an actual
newspaper seriously challenged the proclaimed principles or the measures adopted
to put them into practice, the same authorities that had encouraged public opinion
ended up restricting or simply ignoring the liberties they had initially promoted.42
This contradiction did not affect those regimes-and there were many-that
never pretended to defend such liberties in the first place but grounded their power
on other foundations. In those cases, censure of the press, control over the private
life of the population, and the elimination of all political opposition were regular
and accepted features of government performance. This type of action did not
necessarily make the authorities less legitimate in the eyes of the majority of the
people, nor did it preclude the political mobilization of wide sectors of the
population. The ample success and popularity of some of these governments reveal
the weakness of the enlightened values, habits, and institutions throughout the
region.43 It should not surprise us, therefore, to find at the same time repeated
attempts on the part of an incipient civil society to constitute some sort of modern
public sphere as well as official efforts in the same direction on the one hand and,
on the other, very poor, ephemeral results that were barely significant from a
political perspective.
After mid-century, important changes took place throughout Latin America.
Although the situation varied greatly from place to place, most countries experi-
enced a relatively sustained process of centralization and consolidation of state
power. Simultaneously, their economies expanded as they developed closer links
with the world market, and the social structure of the most dynamic areas became
more diversified and complex.
There are also clear symptoms of the increasing strength and autonomy of civil
society. There was a remarkable expansion of modern associations of all sorts. In
the main cities, Bogota, Buenos Aires, Rosario, Lima, Arequipa, Mexico City, Rio
de Janeiro, and Santiago de Chile, a large number of mutual aid societies, social
and cultural clubs, cultural and literary circles, learned societies, Masonic lodges,
solidarity committees, and festive groupings were organized for specific purposes,
but they rapidly became actors in the public sphere. At the same time, a vigorous
press developed and found a relatively enlarged readership. The expansion of the
42 Carvalho, Os bestializados; Escalante Gonzalbo, Ciudadanos imaginarios; Myers, "Languages of
Politics"; Alberto Lettieri, "La construcci6n del consenso en los inicios del sistema politico moderno
argentino (1862-1868)," Anuario de estudios americanos 52, no. 2 (Seville, 1995).
43 The example of the Argentine caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas illustrates this point. See Jorge
Myers, Ordeny virtud:El discurso republicanoen el regimenrosista (Bernal, 1995).


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1308 Hilda Sabato

reading public beyond the boundaries of the enlightened elites occurred in all the
large cities of the region, and in some cases, like that of Buenos Aires, it reached
impressive figures: by 1887, there was one newspaper issue available for every four
inhabitants in a city where 57 percent of the women and 64 percent of the men (of
all ages) were literate.44
Associative life enjoyed enormous prestige among large sectors of the urban
population. Both the press and the associations were considered to be beacons of
civilization and the breeding ground, as well as the expression, of a modern, free,
and democratic society. This perception was shared by several of the different
ideological perspectives then circulating in Latin America along a wide social
This expansion of the associations and the press has been interpreted as evidence
of the strength of the civil society and its relative autonomy vis-a-vis the state. These
institutions did not only represent, protect, and look after the interests and opinions
of their actual members, they created a thick web of relations and exchanges among
the different groups and sectors of society, and played a leading role in the
mobilization of the urban public. They promoted and organized most of the civic
meetings and demonstrations that were frequently staged in the main cities. Thus
their presence has been considered fundamental to the creation of a space of
mediation with the state, to the formation of a public sphere.
These developments did not preclude the expansion of other, more informal,
mechanisms of sociability, such as cafes, pubs, chicherias, and the like, which played
a part in both the civic as well as the political life of the cities. Other, more
traditional institutions, the cofradias or brotherhoods, continued to exist in the new
context, while the artisan guilds were transformed in tune with the new ideas and
realities of the laboring classes. Religious festivals and community celebrations
took the people to the streets, and the public spaces were the stage for competing
forms of mobilization.
Although, in most works, the accent has been put on civil society, it is important

44 The data for Buenos Aires is in Sabato, La politica en las calles. On the expansion of associations
and the press in different countries of Latin America during the second half of the nineteenth century,
see, among others, Carvalho, Os bestializados; Cristian Gazmuri, El "48" chileno: Igualitarios,
reformistas,radicales, masones y bomberos (Santiago de Chile, 1992); Maurice Agulhon, Bernardino
Bravo Lira, et al., Formas de sociabilidad en Chile, 1840-1940 (Santiago de Chile, 1992); Hilda Sabato,
"Citizenship, Political Participation and the Formation of the Public Sphere in Buenos Aires,
1850s-1880s," Past and Present 136 (1992); and Sabato, "Vida puiblicaen Buenos Aires: Ambitos de
pertenencia y espacios de participaci6n,"in Marta Bonaudo, dir., Nueva historiaargentina:Liberalismo,
Estado y orden burgues (1852-1880) (Buenos Aires, 1999); Escalante Gonzalbo, Ciudadanos imagi-
narios; Guti6rrez Sanin, Curso y discurso del movimiento plebeyo; McEvoy, La utopia republicana;
Forment, "La sociedad civil en el Peru"; Samuel Baily, "Las sociedades de ayuda mutua y el desarrollo
de una comunidad italiana en Buenos Aires, 1858-1916," Desarrolloecon6mico 21, no. 84 (1982); Marta
Bonaudo, "Society and Politics: From Social Mobilization to Civic Participation (Santa Fe, 1890-
1909)," in James Brennan and Ofelia Pianetto, eds., Region in Nation: The Provinces and Argentinain
the TwentiethCentury(Washington, D.C., 1999); Alicia del Aguila, Callejonesy mansiones:Espacios de
opini6n publica y redes sociales en la Lima del 900 (Lima, 1997); Lettieri, La republicade la opinion;
Lomnitz, "Ritual, Rumor and Corruption";Francine Masiello, comp., La mujery el espaciopublico: El
periodismofemenino en la Argentinadel siglo XIX (Buenos Aires, 1994).
45 Besides the titles mentioned in note 45, see Safford, "Politics, Ideology and Society";Luis Alberto
Romero, iQue hacer con los pobres?Elite y sectorespopulares en Santiago de Chile, 1840-1895 (Buenos
Aires, 1997); Jos6 Murilo de Carvalho,A formaacaodas almas: 0 imaginarioda repiTblicano Brasil (Sao
Paulo, 1990).


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1309

to look at the state and the political realm, which would continue to perform a role
in this respect. By mid-century, in most countries of the region, the constellation of
ideas and projects that circulated among the elites in power favored, albeit for
different reasons, "publicity"and considered the press and the associations to be
the incarnation of their cherished "public opinion." Therefore, the administrations
often promoted the expansion of associative life, courted the press, and were
attentive to the signals stemming from the public sphere. They also proclaimed
their respect for the rights that were at the core of civic life, those of free speech
and free association. Of course, this romance was frequently interrupted when
public actions did not respond to the expectations of those in power, as well as by
the recurrent attempts on the part of the latter to influence and shape the public
sphere. These short-circuits, however, did not preclude publicity from becoming a
crucial aspect in the relationship between the state and civil society.
Scholars refer, therefore, to the existence of a public sphere(s) in several Latin
American cities after mid-century.46This is, however, a very general statement that
merits some qualification. Several qufestionsarise in this respect, which have been
addressed by the recent literature on citizenship.47
First, where-in what sector or sectors of the population and defined in what
way-did the associations and the press originate? Who convened the people, and
who led the action? The generic presence of the Habermasian bourgeoisie is
replaced here by a diversity of social actors: enlightened figures, professionals, or
artisans, depending on the period and the place, could be the leading and
hegemonic actors.
Second, did these initiatives produce a unified field of collective action and
identification, a single public sphere? In a city like Buenos Aires in the 1860s and
1870s, for example, the development of a vigorous institutional network of
associations and newspapers of many different kinds created a space of shared
initiatives and actions that successfully appealed to the mass of the urban
population and defined a unified public sphere. Fragmentation was, on the other
side, a widespread reality in the public arenas of other Latin American cities, such
as Rio de Janeiro in the 1880s and 1890 or Santiago de Chile and Arequipa in the
1850s. Different groups or sectors created their own institutions, displaying
competing voices and actions in the public arena. In such cases, scholars choose to
speak of public spheres, in plural.
Third, who participated in these forms of public action, and who did not? The
creation and expansion of a public realm in certain areas of Latin America implied
the incorporation of different sectors of the population to the institutional networks

46 Claudio Lomnitz refers to the creation of a national public sphere. See Lomnitz, "Ritual, Rumor
and Corruption."
47 For this section, see Bonaudo, "Society and Politics"; Carvalho, Os bestializados;Chambers,From
Subjectsto Citizens; del Aguila, Callejonesy mansiones; Escalante Gonzalbo, Ciudadanos imaginarios;
Forment, "La sociedad civil en el Peru"; Gazmuri, El "48" chileno; Gonzalez Bernaldo, Civilite et
politique; Guti6rrez Sanin, Cursoy discursodel movimientoplebeyo; Marta Irurozqui,"The Sound of the
Pututos: Politicisation and Indigenous Rebellions in Bolivia, 1826-1921," Journal of Latin American
Studies 32 (2000); Lettieri, La repiTblicade la opini6n; Lomnitz, "Ritual, Rumor and Corruption";
Masiello, La mujery el espacio puTblico;McEvoy, La utopia republicana;Sabato, "Citizenship, Political
Participation and the Formation of the Public Sphere"; and La politica en las calles.


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1310 Hilda Sabato

of civil society, well beyond the limited circles of the elites. Social, racial, and
gender boundaries were extremely variable. Frequently, professionals of various
sorts, men involved in commerce, petty commerce, and the trades, artisans and
other relatively qualified workers, teachers, and the like, were actively involved in
the institutions of the public sphere(s). Women, together with all other groups
defined as "dependent"-slaves, servants-were generally excluded from the core
of public life; in fact, women's place was prima facie relegated to the private realm.
Nevertheless, their presence is in some cases quite visible, either as marginal figures
in the activities led by the men or as active participantsin their own associations and
newspapers. Free blacks, in turn, depending on their social standing, are frequently
mentioned as members of the associative networks. Their urban location was also
a decisive condition for inclusion. The opposite seems to be the case for most of the
Indians, who were settled in the rural areas and only exceptionally belonged to the
cities' networks. As for the very poor in general, their presence was marginal in the
institutions but sometimes very visible in the public spaces.
Fourth, was the public sphere a site for the display of conflict or, on the contrary,
was it a harmonic space? Sometimes, the initiatives and action originating in civil
society were directed at contesting the power of the state or of a particular
government; at other times, this antagonistic inflection was absent, and conformity
prevailed. Violence was an issue, however. Most of the time, the public spheres
were relatively nonviolent arenas of exchange and communication. Nonetheless,
and against the aspirations of the enlightened groups that considered public action
a rational and "civilized" means of expressing opinion and formulating demands,
violent confrontations were far from exceptional.
Finally, what was the degree of autonomy of the institutions of civil society and
of the public space itself vis-a-vis the state and the political realm? And what was
the relationship of the public sphere(s) to other spaces and forms of collective
action, as well as to the private world? Both these questions are addressed by some
of the current literature. They are closely related to a third, major query: What was
the place of the public sphere(s) in the conformation of each particular polity?
The peculiarities of each case notwithstanding, the public sphere was seen by the
important sectors of the elites both as the generator and the material incarnation
of public opinion, and therefore as key in the legitimization of political power and
the process of nation building. It was also considered to be a formative site for the
values that founded a republican polity. Its institutions were schools of citizens. At
the same time, the public sphere was the terrain for the exercise of civil liberties,
those rights that pertain to civil rather than political citizenship. And it became the
stage for political exchanges and debates. For many people, in turn, the public
spheres were arenas for participating in politically consequential forms of public
action. In fact, in some cases, this involvement seemed to fulfill the political
expectations of many of those who could exercise the right to vote but chose not to
do so. In others, it became a means of claiming voting rights, of negotiating and
disputing boundaries of inclusion and exclusion in the polity. There are, therefore,
many sides to the connections between citizenship and the development of civil
society and a public sphere(s) that the recent scholarship has brought to light.


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1311

IN THESE PAGES, I HAVE ARGUED that the political history of nineteenth-century Latin
America has been profoundly renovated by the recent scholarship centered on the
problematic of citizeniship.In tune with similar approaches in the historiographyof
other areas of the world, that scholarship has illuminated dimensions of the social
and political life of the region that previously went unnoticed. The result is an array
of fragmentary and often contradictory images that have both enriched and
complicated our view of the process of nation building and an agenda of topics that
call for further inquiry.
In light of these recent studies, I have reflected on some of the main issues posed
by the history of citizenship, by centering on two tightly connected aspects: suffrage,
elections, and electoral practices, on the one side, and the development of civil
society, public opinion, and the public sphere(s) on the other. Each area of Latin
America followed its own, singular path, and it may therefore be misleading to talk
about the region as a single whole. But the problems raised by the transition from
colonial to independent rule and by the formation of new nation-states were quite
similar, and although the answers found in each case were unique, it is possible to
display the picture of those problems and draw attention to the variegated historical
responses to them.
We have seen that political citizenship was a crucial concept in the definition of
the new polities that emerged after the severance of the colonial bond. With the
option for the republic in Spanish America and for the constitutional monarchy in
Brazil, political power was to find its legitimacy in the principles of the sovereignty
of the people and modern representation. This entailed the configuration of a
community of equals, a citizenry, formed by those entitled to participate directly or
indirectly in the exercise of political power. In most countries, that process had only
partially to do with the ideas and projects that provided the initial normative
frameworksfor change. From the very early years after independence, however, the
search for the establishment of a political order on the part of the elites and
would-be elites involved a dynamic relationship with larger sectors of the popula-
tion. To compete for and reach office, whether by violent or peaceful means, as well
as to remain in power, the few had to resort to the many. And the institution of
citizenship played a key role in that respect. In the words of Sarah Chambers,
"Independence initiated negotiations over citizenship-its respective rights and
obligations as well as its boundaries of inclusion and exclusion-that have remained
at the center of political movements in Latin America, as throughout much of the
world, until today. "48
The introduction of modern representation opened the way to debates, conflicts,
and negotiations around elections, voting rights, and electoral practices. In most
areas of Latin America, the struggle for power among different groups of elites and
would-be elites found an arena of relatively peaceful resolution in elections. The
electoral game required, however, an appeal to the ones below, as well as the
development of political networks to channel the many in the competition among
the few. The generation of political alignments and the creation of electoral
machines followed different patterns, but across the region and throughout the

48 Chambers,From Subjectsto Citizens, 3.


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1312 Hilda Sabato

century, they contributed to the creation of new webs of exchange and spaces of
action that included people from very different social and ethnic backgrounds.
These networks had strong vertical components, but they did not necessarily
reproduce the hierarchies of the social structure. Even where electoral machines
were initially grounded in social bonds, the dynamics of the political struggle
generated new relations and exchanges among their members.
Elections introduced, therefore, a radical novelty in the political organization of
the region. For a great part of the century, although voters comprised a minority of
the total population, they came from a wide social spectrum. The existence of
norms of inclusion and of actual inclusive mechanisms empowered the many. In the
electoral networks, exchanges were unequal and clientelistic bonds prevailed, but
their members could (and frequently did) use their place to negotiate and claim, to
put their own views and proposals in circulation. Democracy was far off, and
political patronage and hierarchies were the rule. But, although these "citizens"
were quite different from the ideal defined by the norms and proclaimed by the
liberal and republican projects, they constituted an actual political body, an
unavoidable presence in the new nations for a good part of the nineteenth century.
The involvement of the many in the political life of the new polities was not
limited to elections. A key form of participation was through armed intervention.
Although this article has not delved into that question, a few words are in order
here. In Latin America, political citizenship was closely associated with participa-
tion in the militia. In many countries, inscription in a National Guard was required
of voters. Furthermore, the notion of an active citizen implied the right and the
obligation to bear arms in defense of the country. This could be interpreted in many
different ways, as the exercise of violence was deemed legitimate not only against
a foreign enemy but also in local struggles. The latter included both confrontations
between factions and rebellions against the current government-a justified act if
those in power abused their functions, violated the constitution, and fell into
"tyranny."As mentioned above, the armed road to power was a recurrent path
followed in Latin America, and military leaders played a key role in politics
throughout the nineteenth century. But it was not just a leaders' venture. Vast
sectors of the population took part in these armed struggles, and guerrillas,
montoneras, and other military groups, both official and non-official, frequently
attracted more people than voting. The trope of the citizen in arms, of republican
origins, had a strong appeal in the region.49
Armed rebellions, however, gradually tended to subside, and although violent
internal strife remained a constant feature in nineteenth-century political life, its
legitimacy was increasingly put into question. The opposite was true of another
form of participation that expanded and flourished with increasing vigor. I am
49 See, among others, Carvalho,Desenvolvimientode la ciudadania; McEvoy, La utopia republicana;
Peralta Ruiz, "El mito del ciudadano armado";Walker, SmolderingAshes; Gutierrez Sanin, Cursoy
discurso; Lettieri, La repuiblicade la opinion; Thurner, From Two Republics; Peter Guardino, "Las
guerrillasy la independencia peruana: Un ensayo de interpretaci6n,"Pasado y presente 2 (1989). There
are many studies on the Mexican case that deal with the different forms of insurgencydisplayed during
the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For their relationship to citizenship, see Escalante
Gonzalbo, Ciudadanosimaginarios,and the articles included in Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent,
eds., EverydayForms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico
(Durham, N.C., 1994).


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1313

referring here to a set of practices that originated in civil society but were relevant
to the construction of political citizenship and the legitimization of political power.
During the last decades of Spanish rule, the main cities of the American
territories witnessed the development of certain new forms of sociability and the
appearance of a periodical press that, albeit weak and limited to the enlightened
urban circles, introduced new styles of communication presumably based on
freedom, equality, and reason. These scattered experiences found a fertile ground
for expansion during the years of the revolution of independence, when they
frequently became spaces of political debate and action. Meanwhile, the adoption
of representative government introduced a dimension to politics that was not
present in colonial times, and that was increasingly referred to as "public opinion."
As Keith Baker has suggested for eighteenth-century France, in Latin America
"politically .. . the notion of the 'public' came to function as the foundation for a
new system of legitimacy."'50 For the enlightened political and intellectual groups of
the elites, the voice of the public was to be found in the institutions of modern
sociability, that is, the associations and the press, which they strove to create and
nurture. The rights to free speech and association were promulgated in the first
years of the revolutionary period. But this place was subject to dispute, and
different groups and voices claimed to represent "the public." In those turbulent
times, other new forms of collective action-not necessarily identified as "modern"
or "rational"-developed, while more traditional corporate societies continued to
occupy an important place in the institutional arena. At the same time, not all
governments were willing to listen to "the public," and, during the decades that
followed the war of independence, censorship and other restrictions to the basic
freedoms were seen in various places. These conditions notwithstanding, different
groups and institutions, both old and new, modern or traditional, strove to have a
public voice.
In the second half of the century, the network of institutions originating in civil
society expanded and diversified, particularlyin the urban centers. The interaction
with the state and the political realm acquired more definite contours and produced
a space of mediation, a "public sphere." Different groups and sectors of the
populations voiced their opinion and represented their claims through their
organizations and newspapers, and also more directly, by displaying a physical
presence in the civic spaces of the cities.
In most cases, the means of action as well as the action itself differed greatly from
the Habermasian model of the public sphere. They also varied from place to place.
Yet the use of that category-or versions thereof-has allowed scholars to depict
and name a set of institutions and practices that originated in civil society but, at the
same time, operated in relation to the political realm, to the state. And it has called
attention to a concept that was widely used in the political languages of the
nineteenth century, "the public." In Latin America, as in many other areas of the
modern world, the concrete publics that displayed their claims and actions were
quite different from the abstract public invoked by the theories then in vogue and
by the different governments. But the fact that the latter became an indispensable
50 Keith Baker, "Politics and Public Opinion under the Old Regime: Some Reflections," Jack Censer
and Jeremy Popkin, eds., Press and Politics in Pre-RevolutionaryFrance (Berkeley, Calif., 1987), 231.


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1314 Hilda Sabato

piece of political legitimacy gave the former a powerful weapon in their dealings
with the state and the political system.
The public spheres were sites for the exercise of and negotiation around rights,
and for the constitution of citizens. Claims for equality did not prevent these spaces
from generating their own hierarchies and discriminations, but-again, as in the
case of electoral networks-they did not usually replicate those of the social
structure. On the contrary, in many cases, the development of new webs of
sociability and collective action, as well as the creation of new forms of dialogue and
communication, contributed to the disruption and the modification of social and
cultural traditions. At the same time, they affected the rules of the political game.
By the end of the nineteenth century, many things had changed in the territories
that had severed their colonial bonds with Spain and Portugal in the first decades
of that century. The political map of Latin America showed the consolidation of the
nation-states, most of which remain very much the same today. In the fragmented
reality of the old colonies, the formation of those new polities had been a complex
and by no means linear process. Latin America had preceded most other areas of
the world in the early establishment of republican and representative forms of
government, but it did not follow a progressive road to democracy. On the contrary,
after many decades of trial and error and different political experiments, the liberal
matrix had definitely prevailed in the institutional structure of most nations. But a
significant group of those liberal regimes had, by the turn of the century, achieved
the political order they had long coveted by centralizing power and restricting
political freedoms and competition.51
There are many dimensions to the history of these political transformations. In
recent years, by introducing the problematic of citizenship, the new scholarship has
drawn our attention to one of those dimensions. In nineteenth-century Latin
America, the institution of citizenship played a key part in the construction,
legitimization, and reproduction of political power. The study of power requires,
therefore, to go beyond the elites and would-be elites, in order to inquire about the
role of the rest of the people in that story. As we have seen, the building of
citizenship contributed to the incorporation of relatively large sectors of the
population in politically significant forms of organization and action. This incor-
poration did not lead to the consolidation of political equality, and social and racial
gaps between the few and the many remained a persistent reality in the political life
of most countries of the region. But it generated forms of participation and spaces
of negotiation and struggle that led to the continuous definition and redefinition of
the boundaries of inclusion in and exclusion from the polity. Rather than measuring
these developments against an ideal path leading toward democratization, the
recent literature has underlined their intrinsic relevance in terms of the actual,

51 There is a vast literature on the history of the consolidation of the liberal states. For a recent
evaluation of this process, see Negretto and Aguilar Rivera, "Rethinking the Legacy of the Liberal


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On Political Citizenship in Nineteenth-Century Latin America 1315

historical, process of nation building. And in doing this, it has opened a rich,
complex, and challenging field of inquiry.

Hilda Sabato is a professor of history at the University of Buenos Aires,

Argentina. Her books include Agrarian Capitalismand the WorldMarket:
BuenosAires in the PastoralAge (1990); Los trabajadoresde BuenosAires:La
experienciadel mercado,1850-1880 (1992), in collaborationwith Luis Alberto
Romero; and La politica en las calles:Entreel voto y la movilizacion;Buenos
Aires, 1862-1880 (1998), published in English as The Many and the Few:
Political Participationin RepublicanBuenos Aires (2001). She has edited
Ciudadaniapolitica y formacion de las naciones: Perspectivashistoricas de
AmericaLatina (1999).


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